Welcome to Lab/Shul, an artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional, pop up, experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC and reaching the world.


I Need You to Survive: A Conversation Between Rev. McQueen & Naomi

This past weekend, I had the privilege of collaborating with a new colleague and now friend, Rev. Dr. Derrick McQueen, Pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church, Associate Director at the Center for African American Religion, Sexual Politics, Social Justice, and Professor of Worship and Preaching. Rev. Derrick and I were introduced this past summer by Rev. Dionne Boissiere, Chaplain of the Church Center of the United Nations, at our interfaith Tisha B’Av event, Rise From Rubble.

After hearing Rev. Derrick preach, I knew Lab/Shul had to get to know him in a deeper way. I invited him to co-lead worship with our ritual team at our 3rd Annual Interfaith Shabbat AM honoring the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King (click HERE for photos). He in turn, invited our community to join him at his Sunday morning worship at St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem. 

What follows is our conversation reflecting on our work together this past weekend, shared transparently with the hope that it will spark you to engage in your own conversations and reflections – and share them with us!

Q Derrick: My sister, our original time together at the event “Rise From The Rubble” was a fleeting worship and protest moment in our lives. Why did Lab/Shul consider that me as a partner for this sacred time together?

A Naomi: Rise from Rubble was really an example of what our mutual friend and colleague Rev. Dionne Boissiere from the Church Center of the UN says often – we show up together for each other’s sacred moments, both in times of struggle and times of celebration. Rise from Rubble was commemorating a day in the Jewish calendar that commemorates destruction said to be caused by senseless hatred between human beings. As we named what the rubble is that we need to help each other rise – as we called out what is senseless and destroying the human race, I was so moved to hear you preach – calling all assembled on the Isaiah steps to step up to help dismantle the oppression of black lives. Rev. Dionne had suggested that you be invited to participate and I was beyond grateful that you said yes. 

Q Naomi: Derrick, would you be willing to describe your experience both participating in the Lab/Shul worship event and what it was like to have Lab/Shul community participants visiting your worship event?

A Derrick: I found the flow of participating in the Lab/Shul worship event a particularly incredible arc of ritual that built up like a whirlwind of fire in my spirit. It was also liberating to find my particular zone in singing in Hebrew, something I had not done with such presence since I was a teenager. That and the belonging in the moment, allowed me to participate in and worship. It was especially exciting to see the faces of Lab/Shul folks from the pulpit of St. James. It was fascinating to feel the energies merge in worship right up to the impromptu singing after the prayer. Although I was leading, it was the spirit of the peoples together that made it overwhelmingly powerful in the moment and beyond. That I responded in having us revel in that moment surprised me in a wonderful way. It moved me so much that it took a few extra moments to recover to continue on with the service! I took away so much from that service but what really got me was the knowing that we had authentic worship and the vulnerability with which everyone opened their spirits and hearts..


Q Derrick: I would think your question to me would be a rich and dear one to hear your voice with the prompt, “Can you describe your experience in my participation the Lab/Shul event? What surprised you? What moved you? What did you take away?”

A Naomi: To be perfectly honest, not much surprised me – but everything moved me. I felt a sense of oneness – of connectedness in the spiritual domain – of how we truly have capacity to see each other when we allow ourselves to – that we can acknowledge the uniqueness of each individual in their struggle, and yet know that we are truly one if we allow our hearts to open – and so many times my heart opened from your wisdom and invitation let our spirits soar. The choices you made – the musical, spiritual, textual teaching choices enriched my experience and so many others. I was deeply moved by the song I Need You To Survive” – but what most people don’t know is that you brought the piece to me, knowing that we are a god-optional community – and offered up your own adaptations to provide a more poetic concept of God in the lyrics. Your choices allowed everyone the access to the prayer – and for that I am grateful. 

Q Naomi: Rev. Derrick, when I asked you to be part of our 3rd Annual Shabbat AM interfaith worship event honoring the legacy of MLK, what was your hope in participating? Can you describe the preparation of the event and your experience? Any goals or hopes you had?

A Derrick: I felt humbled and honored. My hope was to be able to share a part of myself and to be challenged to blend in with the gifts that were sure to surround me. My preparation was extremely calm and yet intense. I enjoyed taking the hours to find the songs I suggested for the worship. I started with about twenty titles and then sang them with the intention of the moment of worship to edit down to what I suggested. As for the preaching moment, I read the text in several different translations including my Tanach. I then went to a few interlinear versions and looked at a few midrashim in order to get a feel for how to live in between the words. It wasn’t until the night before that I filtered that textual study through the lens of MLK and our current context. From there came the need to be addressed, the call to action if you will. My goal and hope celebrate in worship in some meaningful way, and wow, goal and hope met beyond my most daring expectation.

Q Derrick: We have worked to commit to our next project together – Freedom Feast – on the 2nd night of Passover, after our time together this weekend and in our dream of dreams, what part of the ritual arc would you like us to be collaborators?

A Naomi: I am truly looking forward to your creativity in building the Freedom Feast April 11 Interfaith program – my dear brother, you have so many gifts – and I recently found out you were a theater major!! – is that true? What I’m most excited about in terms of collaboration is for us together with Rev. Vince Anderson and other talented folks, think about the musical contributions to Freedom Feast – how we might think about the entire experience both with a soundtrack for our collective journey that night and particular moments that we can share ecumenical music that will connect all souls at the event.
Our weekend was full of moments celebrating Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy, and putting his words of connection, love, and healing into action.

3rd Annual Interfaith Shabbat AM (click HERE for more photos)

Sunday Morning Worship at St. James Presbyterian Church

MLK Weekend of Service with Time for Good, Repair the World, Union Temple, and MET Council

Want more multifaith opportunities to gather, learn, and celebrate together?

Save the Date: Freedom’s Feast returns April 11th, 2017. A sacred night led by Jewish and Christian faith leaders, along with performing artists, musicians and local leaders, featuring highlights from the Seder and the Biblical narratives of Passover and Easter, interactive storytelling, a festive feast, live music and prayer, contemplation, conversation, and a call to action for justice across America and all over the world.